Severe depression and the magic of medicine.

I’m going to take a day off to hang out with my fiancee and my brother.  However, I did want to post this one thing.  Eight months ago I received an email from a guy, let’s call him John Wayne, who was suffering from severe depression.

Hi JT,

Big fan, longtime follower. I’m sure you get a ton of messages everyday so I’ll understand if you don’t respond. I’ve been following your blogs/FB for a while now and I while I’m a huge admirer of your writings and message in regards to Atheism. However, my question is one in regards to a medical issue.

I’m a 40 year old kid-at-heart but 4 years ago I was diagnosed with severe depression. I didn’t work for 8 months and I was on anti-depression medication. I ran into the same issues that you’ve mentioned, having this ‘fuzzy brain’ all the time and having some memory issues when I returned to work. I’m a programmer by trade, so you can see how I rely on my memory. It got so bad that I weened myself off of the medication and I’m now medication free since January of 2010. I’m pretty much forced to handle my depression through willpower, and most of the time I’m OK. Those times/days that are hard, though, not so much. I get through them, though, by forcing my mind to think through the depression. But those hard days make working very, very difficult. Being off the medication helped with my memory, but I still struggle and it’s not as good as before my depression. The fuzziness is gone, but I struggle with motivation and focus. Add in the getting through it with willpower and you can see how exhausting it can be for me day-to-day.

You mentioned that you were switched to Wellbutrin a while ago. I just talked to my doctor last week and he mentioned that he’d like me to consider it. I was hoping you could give an update on how it’s going being on this medicine. My doctor is impressed that I’m so in-touch with how my mind works and how I feel at any moment, but he feels that 6 to 12 months on Wellbutrin will give me a boost and help me without the memory and focus side effects. Have you noticed anything positive being on this medication?

Anyways, I thought I’d ask to see how the drug has helped or not for your recovery. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge admirer of your work so I thought I’d ask. One of these days I’m going to attend a CON and I look forward to meeting you in person. Until then, keep up the great work! You, my friend, make a difference is so many lives. Have a great day and thanks for reading/listening.

I wrote back:

Mr. Wayne,

Thanks for the accolades.

I was allergic to Wellbutrin, but I’ve heard it can work much better for mitigating depression while improving focus. Lexapro has a similar reputation and it just went generic. It is widely accepted that Lexapro has the lowest side effect panel of all SSRIs.

You may also consider going with a cocktail. Christina takes Lexapro for the depression and Aderall for focus. It works like a dream. I’d ask your doctor about all of the above.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

JT

We exchanged a few more emails with small talk.  Today he sent me an update:

Hi JT,

My 8 months later update..heheh…

I actually waited a couple more months before I went with my prescription of Wellbutrin. I thought I could tough it out but it kinda got a lot worse. At that point I realized I was heading for trouble and needed help.

I’m on a low dosage, and most days I’m doing pretty good. My ‘hard’ days, which used to be once or twice a week, are down to about once every three or four weeks. This is great news but they seem to always happen around the time I’m thinking I’m doing better. Go figure. The side effects for me aren’t bad at all. I do suffer from insomnia sometimes, but that’s only every few weeks and it doesn’t last all night. I didn’t get the good perk of weight loss… I’m still fighting my over-eating ways. Ah well.

The only issue I still have is focus/memory. I don’t think it’s gotten better or worse. I just talked to my doc about it last week and he reassured me that it’s normal. I’m not so sure… I’m a programmer and I’ve been working with the same codebase for over a year now and I still have trouble remembering variables and class names and such. I work through it, and if this keeps up I may need to see a different doctor.

The good news:
I am happy most of the time. My social anxiety rarely rears it’s ugly head when I’m out and about, and when it does I’m able to control it. My wife says that she has noticed a difference and it helped me when I convinced her to see a doctor about depression. She’s only been on meds a month or so now and she’s still not sure about it. She’s on a different brand (I forget which). She’s slowly showing signs of improvement. I’m just glad she’s finally coming out of the ‘lows’…

My youngest is doing great. He was initially in a school for a few hours a day (he was 3 at the time) and when our Minnesota Aid finally got approved he qualified for the Minnesota Autism Center and he’s been going there every M-F, eight hours a day, for almost two months now. In that time he’s started to speak and say words and show huge signs of improvement. In fact, the other day at our parent meeting they informed us that his six month therapy plan wasn’t challenging enough so they had to rewrite it. He’s very high on the spectrum and they’re very focused and optimistic that he may be one of the rare ones that may get off the spectrum. They just had a young boy ‘graduate’ off the spectrum a couple months ago.

Anyways, sorry it took so long for an update. I’m still a HUGE fan. I read your site daily, and I’m always looking forward to the day when I can get away from my little spawn and see you do a conference in person. Keep up the great work! You truly are a great inspiration for a lot of people!

Thanks,
J.W.

Managing clinical depression is a process.  It certainly takes time – hell, it took me years.  But with medication and treatment, like any other disease, it does get better.

I know how scary and hard it can be if you’re suffering from depression, how you can feel so weak at the thought of going to a doctor instead of just toughing it out.  But believe me when I say there is no shame and a high probability that you can eventually enjoy the world in which you live.

You deserve to be happy.  You deserve to be well.  If you suspect you may be clinically depressed, going to the doctor is the best decision you could make.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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